FERGUSON'S could return to private ownership in future and remains in line for Royal Navy frigate work, says Scotland's finance and economy secretary.

With just weeks to go until the Scottish Government nationalises the yard, Derek Mackay gave an insight into his vision for the business on a visit to Port Glasgow as he announced that over 40 new jobs have been created.

Ferguson's plunged into administration in August after it ran out of money following a two-year dispute between previous owners Clyde Blowers Capital - run by engineering tycoon Jim McColl - and the state-owned vessels and harbours operator, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL).

They were locked in a dispute about a delayed and over-budget £97 million CalMac ferries contract.

Despite three takeover offers from commercial parties, the government has been chosen as preferred bidder and will take over the reins within the next four weeks.

Mr Mackay says his immediate aim is to ensure the partially-built MV Glen Sannox and the as-yet unnamed Hull 802 are finally completed while securing the future of the yard and its 300-plus workforce.

But he revealed the government could sell the yard further down the line.

Speaking to the Tele, Mr Mackay said: "That's a possibility. "My mission is clear - to complete the vessels, safeguard the yard and safeguard the jobs. "In future, if a private sector bidder wants to come forward and work with us then I haven't ruled that out.

"But what I have done is made a commitment that I am honouring in getting on with the job."

Mr Mackay also provided an update on Ferguson's involvement in a lucrative £1.25 billion Royal Navy Type 31e frigate contract as part of a consortium led by engineering giant Babcock.

Asked if a state-owned shipyard can take on any of the work, the minister said: "That's a matter for Babcock.

"Technically Ferguson's could be part of the supply chain for that.

"It's not a material part of the detailed bid that Babcock's put out but it's absolutely one of the parties that's part of the supply chain.

"The reassurance I can give is I have engaged with Babcock and it is perfectly possible that Ferguson's could be a beneficiary of that work and I'll continue to engage with Babcock on that."

The finance and economy chief also hinted that the yard would be at the front of the queue to build more CalMac ferries in the future - once the current vessels are finished.

Mr Mackay said: "I can't pre-determine that right now because there's obviously technicalities in how we award work, but what I'm setting out is that - whatever governance model we have into the future - I want to optimise the pipeline of work here. "I want to design a company that can maximise the amount of work here. "That could be a public sector pipeline of work, it could be private sector work, I'm quite open to whatever that looks like."

Concerns have been raised about the nationalisation of Ferguson's, with questions asked about the Scottish Government's ability to operate a shipyard following criticism of how it has run Prestwick Airport.

Mr Mackay said: "The administrators have decided and determined our offer was the best on the table.

"I made it perfectly clear that if there was no viable commercial offer then the Scottish Government would step in to ensure, through public ownership, the completion of the vessels under construction, safeguard the jobs and give the yard a future.

"I provide political leadership as finance and economy secretary, but we bring in the necessary expertise to run the shipyard.

"Rather than walk away, we're being involved and bringing in the necessary expertise - that's engineering, technical and, of course, the skilled and talented workforce here who we've put a vote of confidence in as we scale up the operation and also secure the jobs for the apprentices as well."